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Vallejo City Council ends meeting without plan for end of Project RoomKey

  •   6 min reads
Vallejo City Council ends meeting without plan for end of Project RoomKey
Vallejo City Hall.

VALLEJO – For the second time in as many weeks, the Vallejo City Council failed to outline a concrete solution on what to do with nearly 50 unsheltered individuals who will lose their temporary housing next week.

During a special meeting Tuesday night, the council gave general direction to city staff, to work on providing hotel vouchers to about 50 remaining persons housed in Project RoomKey, a program launched in the first month of the pandemic as state leaders attempted to stop the spread of COVID-19 by offering shelter options for people experiencing homelessness.

The council is expected to be presented with the budget at its Jan. 11 meeting. In the meantime, Richard and Emily Fisher of the nonprofit 4th Second will work to provide 50 rooms for those leaving Project RoomKey, which officially ends on Jan. 5. It was not clear after Tuesday’s meeting whether the participants would stay in the Hampton Inn or have to move to a different hotel.

Tuesday’s meeting comes a week after a marathon six-hour meeting in which the council rejected an application from the Fishers seeking a 30-day temporary use permit to place 40 7.5-foot by 7.5-foot tents, and four Porta-Potties in a proposal called “Hope Village” inside a church parking lot at 921 Amador St.

City staff returned Tuesday night with several other possible locations to place the tents, including in an empty lot owned by the Fishers along Fifth Street in South Vallejo, in an empty lot at 441 Broadway St. or in the parking lot of 709 Admiral Callaghan Lane, which is located at the intersection with Redwood Street overpass.

The council was also presented with an idea of placing an indoor emergency shelter inside a building at 420 Mississippi St. and whether to have the city fund Project RoomKey for another month.

Interim Assistant City Manager Gillian Hayes said the options were presented to buy time.

“Again, none of these options are a solution to the Project RoomKey program ending, that program is going to end,” Hayes said. “Instead these options could be a temporary stopgap until longer-term solutions can be negotiated for some of the most vulnerable homeless population in the city of Vallejo during very cold and inclement weather in these coming weeks.”

Staff said it would cost more than $1 million, or $344,000 per month, to fund Project RoomKey for 56 individuals over three months.

Richard Fisher said the hotel voucher program was better than extending Project RoomKey.

“The cost is also a lot cheaper because we would just be asking for you all to pay for the hotel room, we would bring our budget, and our staff and our partners to continue a similar level of service that's happening at RoomKey right now, that we were proposing at Hope Village,” Fisher said.

The hotel voucher plan was not on Tuesday’s agenda as interim City Manager Mike Malone said the option had not been presented to staff in time. Malone said the city was against extending Project RoomKey, instead backing the voucher program which would give city hall more time to address the situation.

“Also, it provides indoor shelter to the homeless, and it gives staff an opportunity to work with the applicant to find a more permanent solution to this issue,” Malone told the council.

Malone said the city could draw upon some of its American Rescue Plan funding to pay for the hotel vouchers. He said the city was having “second thoughts” on how to implement a proposed downtown program which would provide homeless persons with case management, job placement, and basic needs, which would be funded with $400,000 from the American Rescue Plan monies. Malone said the city could divert the funds for the program to reimburse the Fishers.

Councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz, District 3, said she preferred providing the hotel vouchers and, if needed, extending Project RoomKey, but she rejected the other options.

“I don’t want to consider any of the others. I think that Fifth Street would be a huge mistake and so would be Broadway Street,” Loera-Diaz said. “I want to gain a little bit more time with the vouchers or Project RoomKey so that we can find an appropriate indoor location that we can house these unhoused individuals.”

Staff noted that the Fifth Street location didn’t have any drainage, paving or access to electricity, water or gas.

Councilmember Katy Miessner, at large, said she liked all the new options presented, including the Mississippi Street building, until finding out that the gymnastics center North Bay Athletic Association was located across the street. She said it was “not appropriate” to put a homeless shelter in that location.

Meanwhile, Councilmember Pippin Dew, at large, said her youngest daughter attends that gymnastic school and that she was “not dissuaded by that.”

“If it’s indoors and well-run, I think that’s a good location,” Dew said.

Dew advocated for the city to create an analyst position dedicated toward homeless services.

One quirk Tuesday night included the revelation from City Attorney Veronica Nebb that the council didn’t fully dispense with the proposed tent city for the Amador Street location during its vote last week. Nebb said the motion was to approve the temporary use permit, which was voted down 2-4 but the council didn’t follow-up with a motion to outright deny the application and subsequent permit.

Later in Tuesday’s meeting, Loera-Diaz corrected this by making a motion directing city staff to prepare a resolution to deny the temporary use permit for the Amador Street location. The vote was along similar lines with Loera-Diaz, Miessner, Dew and Councilmember Cristina Arriola, District 6, all voting against the project.

Following the vote, Mayor Robert McConnell was allowed to participate in the deliberations as he was forced to recuse himself for having a conflict of interest when it came to the Amador Street location.

Despite the vote, it became a moot point when as the meeting was wrapping up, Richard Fisher said his nonprofit was pulling its application for both the Amador and Fifth Street locations.

Most of Tuesday’s meeting was reserved for the general public as a few dozen addressed the council. The points varied as some still supported the Amador location, while others were against it and asked why the location was still before the council after last week’s vote.

Joey Carrizales, a longtime advocate for the homeless and unsheltered, applauded the Fishers, saying that he thought they would do a great job with Hope Village and that he would provide as much volunteer help as he could.

“I hope that you would not allow the politics of fear (to) rule your decision making process,” he added.

Another speaker, who lives a block and a half away from the proposed Amador site, said he experienced issues with the unsheltered even before the proposed tent city.

“That's my little piece of the world, I worked hard for that, most of these people here have done the same,” he said. “I’ve lived with people coming by house, defecating, urinating in my garden, screaming at me.”

Tempers flared once again during Councilmember Hakeem Brown’s comments. Last week Brown told a member of the public to “shut up” after they started shouting at him for calling a point of order when a speaker refused to stop talking after her three minutes ended.

Brown had been criticized during last week’s meeting for his friendship with the Fishers and his efforts to fundraise for the project before it had been approved by the council. Some called for him to recuse himself from the discussion, but he refused, and was combative with the public throughout the meeting.

During Tuesday’s meeting,  Brown was speaking about the decision to remove the Fifth Street location from council consideration when some in the audience mocked him.

“I really appreciate you taking the Fifth Street location off of the table, the South Vallejo neighborhood and Black and brown communities thank you. I think it was very appalling to see the double standard put to one affluent neighborhood to one poor neighborhood,” Brown said before some in the audience began to laugh.

“I know it’s funny,” Brown said in response. “That being said, I just want to thank also everyone who advocated for those without housing against the normal political pressures and racism,” Brown said before being interrupted again by more cheering and someone loudly clapping in the audience.

“Thank you, sir, I appreciate that,” he said. “You know when I see a bunch of blonde hair, blue eyed people mocking me about racism, I, too, applaud.”

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